I know it's only a joke.
Usually, when we are in a mall, Joe will assist me on the long distances between the stores we intend on shopping in. Once inside the store, I take over driving duties. Because of my weight and because of Joe's knees, I never let him just push me - we've learned a way to work together so I am helping take some of the effort out of pushing. Occasionally, when we've been in a car for a very long time, I want to do some long distance pushing just to get the cobwebs out of my arms. This is what I was doing on Friday when we arrived here in Winnipeg.
Our hotel is near a really nice shopping mall, which is perfect for us, and we were enjoying being out and in at the same time. The cold was debilitating in the very short walk between parking and doors so we were making the very best of it. Joe had gone off to the restroom and I was tackling the distance. A woman, very friendly, was strolling in the mall, and she joked, 'Sometimes I wish I had one of those for when I get tired.' I smiled, she smiled, it was just an ordinary comment meant in a welcoming way.
I know that.
It's a joke I hear a lot, both in my power chair and in my self powered chair. People sometimes need something to say in order to say something. A little joke works to bridge that odd gap between strangers who want a moment's contact. AND I LIKE THAT KIND OF THING. But that joke is said often. So often that I begin to wonder if, behind the joke, is a kind of assumption that a wheelchair would be a wondrous thing for people who are feeling a bit lazy, or who just don't feel like walking. With economic tensions being what they are I do get the impression that people have the impression that those of us with disabilities are all unemployed and all a kind of shifty work dodging, benefit slurping, sub-class of society. Every time I hear people going on about cleaning up government, the discussion eventually slides off the powerful and the corrupt and centers on 'us' and the 'cost' of being a caring society.
I know that the woman in the mall was just making a little joke, making a little contact. I know.
While I hate and deplore those horrid trainings where someone sits down in a wheelchair to discover the barriers to free access. I wonder what happened to our ability to imagine. When I was growing up we went to visit a farrier and when I watched him work, swinging a heavy hammer to pound hot, glowing, metal, I was amazed by the poetry of his movements. There was an economy in the spareness of his effort. In fact, the rhythm with which he moved made it look effortless. But, even as a small boy, I knew it wasn't. I knew that his muscles were fully engaged, his mind was keenly focused, that the hammer was heavy. I knew that it took effort to make it look effortless. I knew that at the end of the day he was tired. When all of us kids were offered the opportunity to pick up the hammer, I said, without picking it up, 'I don't have to, I know it's heavy.' I remember now his smile, white teeth against a grimy, blackened face.
Now I know why he smiled.
When I was pushing myself in the mall, I was working. Hard. I'm really heavy. The chair itself isn't light. The bag on the back is full. I'm working. I'm doing with the smaller muscles of shoulders and arms what those who walk are doing with the much larger muscles of the legs. I have learned to push myself in the most economical manner and I have learned the exact way to push myself with the least amount of work. But it's still a lot of work. I guarantee you lazy people would be out of the chair in moments, they'd be frustrated at just how much work it takes to get from A to B.
Now I'm worried about having written that.
Yes it is work but it's my work. Just like walking is YOUR work. I don't envy you walking. I'd rather you not envy my rolling. It's just how we both, you and I, manage to get where we are going in the bodies that transport us. That's how it works. It's everyday to me. It's every day to you. My life isn't one of drudgery in a wheelchair and it isn't one of less quality either. It just is.
Back to the point.
Wheelchairs get people from one place to another. Power wheelchairs may look like fun, and indeed they can be. But they require constant concentration, constant watchfulness, constant adjusting and readjusting to the physical confines of the environment. They aren't for the faint of heart. They take effort, even though it may look effortless.
It's just a joke.
I know that.
But, I'm not lazy.